On January 1 Rich Cavallaro became Skanska USA’s president and CEO, replacing Mike McNally who retired after 16 years with us. A New York City native who grew up with five brothers, Cavallaro graduated from the City College of New York and, after some stints elsewhere, joined Skanska in 1996 as an estimator. His first major field assignment was on the $1.2 billion AirTrain to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. From there, he worked his way up to be the CEO of Skanska USA’s civil business unit, which specializes in large infrastructure projects and projects in the power and industrial sectors. During the five years he held that position, Rich brought our regional civil operations together to work as a unified national contractor, enabling us to best pool our resources to execute the most challenging projects, regardless of location. Now, Rich oversees collaboration between our U.S. construction and development units and the operations of those construction units, both building and civil.
Here, he discusses the power of teams, why our values are so important, and that achieving zero lost-time accidents is within our grasp.
What’s your leadership style? I’m definitely a team builder and a cheerleader. I completely believe in the power of teams, as there are so many examples of teams delivering remarkable results that could never have been achieved individually.
What’s a key leadership lesson you’ve learned? One of the key things I’ve learned is that as a leader, you need to have a steady hand. You shouldn’t overreact to ups and downs, because they’re always part of the business. Another valuable lesson I’ve learned is that you should never play the blame game. Problems come to you all the time but it’s important to get the team focusing on the solution, instead of trying to assign blame.
What trait do you admire most in other people, and why? Selflessness and loyalty. Selflessness refers to the team being more important than the individual, and when people act that way you get a more powerful result. Sports have millions of examples of this. Take, for example, the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team: they were basically a bunch of kids playing professionals from the Soviet Union. How the U.S. beat them nobody can explain, but everybody did what they needed to do to deliver for the team – they put that ahead of their own needs.
What can employees expect from you? I’ll do whatever I can to help individuals succeed. I’ll be a steady influence. I’ll be a team builder. I’ll be loyal to a fault. Those are the kind of things people can expect from me.
What do you admire about Skanska as a whole? I admire the way we do business. The Five Zeros is our North Star, as it guides decision making. Having this tremendous foundation of safety; ethics; sustainability; diversity and inclusion; quality; and profitability really separates us from most of our competitors.
What are your top priorities? We’re going to continue stressing safety, ethics, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability – all the things that McNally has been emphasizing. A really big priority for me – and the one we have the most work to do to achieve – is to become better integrated to deliver even more powerful solutions for clients. While we’ve made strong progress toward being One Skanska, we have further to go.
Looking ahead, what are Skanska’s greatest U.S. opportunities? Public-private partnerships will be huge in the U.S. There is such a tremendous need for infrastructure repair and little public money to pay for it, and meanwhile there’s plenty of private money on the sidelines waiting to be invested. What better place to invest your money than in U.S. infrastructure? Also, low-cost energy in the U.S. will accelerate and create significant opportunities for us. Healthcare continues to grow at a rapid rate, so it’s great that we’re so strong in that market. And there’s much potential to expand our work in commercial development.
How do you see Skanska in five years? We should be larger, we should be more profitable, and we should be even more of a leader in safety, ethics, sustainability and diversity and inclusion. Achieving those will require us to be a more integrated organization that can better take advantage of all our strengths.
What advice do you have for a new college graduate starting out with us? Knowledge is power. We do so many really interesting projects that offer such tremendous opportunities to learn. Soak in that knowledge as part of your job, and later put it to use. I guarantee you that will advance your career.